From 'Face of UQ' to champion of diversity

Louisa Parkinson

Hello readers! My name is Louisa Parkinson and I’m a Research Officer in the QAAFI Centre for Horticultural Science.

I’ve been a member of the QAAFI workplace community for six years. I started out as a PhD student in 2013 and continued doing plant pathology research for the avocado industry with QAAFI after graduating in 2017.

This is a blog about my experience as a Filipino-Australian woman in research - detailing how affirmative action in relation to workplace diversity and inclusion has been important in helping shape my career.

My experience as a mixed-race individual
in the workplace

My Filipino heritage has always been an interesting topic of conversation.

When I meet people, often I’m asked where I’m from because I don’t quite look Caucasian or Asian.

Louisa has been featured prominently as a UQ exemplar.

Louisa has been featured prominently as a UQ exemplar.

Louisa has been featured prominently as a UQ exemplar.

Although I understand there’s almost always no harm intended (and I often chuckle and say: “Mate, I’m from Brisbane!”), it can be difficult to navigate at times, as it can be alienating and it serves as a small reminder that I don’t quite belong.

I empathise with members of culturally diverse groups, as this is a question many of us receive. The general advice from UQ’s Discrimination and Harassment policy is not to ask such questions.

For more information, there is helpful workplace cultural competency training available for all UQ staff.

I value multicultural workplaces and, from my lived experience, I do understand that curiosity of people’s backgrounds can come up in social interactions.

Some ways in which I think we can have a more inclusive discussion (if we do happen to be curious about someone’s heritage) is to simply ask: “What’s your heritage?” or “What’s your background?”

I think that gives the person an opportunity to tell their story without feeling alienated.

However, before I ask these questions, I always stop and think about the context of the interaction that I’m having before proceeding (“Is this an appropriate question to ask in this setting?”).

At work I’m very open about my cultural background and you’ll hear me excitedly tell anyone who’s listening that I’m deeply in touch with my Filipino heritage.

Mum taught me many Filipino national dances and I often perform them with her. In my spare time I’m on the organising committee for the biggest Filipino cultural festival in Brisbane, the Filipino Barrio Fiesta.

The fiesta is held annually in June at the Rocklea Showgrounds and attracts over 8000 attendees for food and cultural entertainment.   

How I contribute towards an inclusive
workplace environment

Creating a safe and inclusive workplace environment is important to me because it has an impact on our productivity, morale and overall satisfaction in our day-to-day work.

When I’m part of an inclusive and welcoming team, I’m happier and healthier, I see meaning in my work, I’m contributing and productive, and I feel empowered to progress.

I think we all have a role to play in helping make this happen for everyone.

Facilitating the safety and fair treatment of staff and students is a huge priority in my personal workplace values and culture.

No matter the workplace, harassment, bullying and discrimination can occur and students and minority groups can be particularly vulnerable.

UQ has a team of volunteer Discrimination and Harassment Contact Officers (DHCO) who can provide support and information for students and staff.

I volunteer as a DHCO for QAAFI because I want to contribute towards helping the members of our workplace community feel safe and supported, and because it is as an overt way of demonstrating my stance to help stamp out damaging behaviours in the workplace.

Staff and students are always welcome to contact me for support and information.

Members of the UQ Ally Network.

I’m also a UQ Ally and I’m part of the UQ Ally Network of UQ staff members who actively show support for members of the LGBTIAQ+ community within the workplace.

UQ Allies are equipped to provide information and support for staff and students.

Part of this involves wearing a rainbow lanyard in the workplace and on campus as a visible symbol of support, and that staff and students can feel safe to approach if needed. 

Members of the UQ Ally Network.

Members of the UQ Ally Network.

Members of the UQ Ally Network.

Louisa Parkinson with Dr Elizabeth Dann.

Dr Louisa Parkinson with Dr Elizabeth Dann.

Dr Louisa Parkinson with Dr Elizabeth Dann.

Representation matters

In my career so far, my role models are my PhD principal supervisor Associate Professor Elizabeth Dann and QAAFI CHS Director Professor Neena Mitter (pictured).

As a young female researcher, seeing female leaders in my field empowers and motivates me to be one too.

Dr Louisa Parkinson with Dr Elizabeth Dann.

Being of Asian heritage, seeing researchers from diverse cultural backgrounds being represented as leaders also empowers me.

Society is diverse, and the more that is represented in the workplace, the broader the skills and perspectives we can contribute, and the better the output we collectively produce.

Representation is important for all diversity groups; whether it is gender & sexuality, disability, or cultural and religious diversity. Representation helps to give everyone the opportunity to succeed.

How my colleagues and workplace contribute towards an inclusive workplace environment

I appreciate that QAAFI staff celebrate diversity.

This year the team from the Ecosciences Precinct (ESP) had an Eid celebration lunch on June 10 organised by Associate Professor Femi Akinsanmi. Some of the PhD students organised a Vietnamese banquet lunch for anyone who was keen for delicious food and good company.

I love workplaces like this. It gives us opportunities to learn and appreciate each other’s cultures.

QAAFI shares the ESP building with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

There was a joint National Reconciliation Week event at ESP (organised by the Queensland Government on 28 May), which showcased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancing, and had a traditional Torres Strait Islander basket-weaving lesson in the ground floor library.

What we can do to make the workplace more inclusive

I think there are small gestures which we can all do to make the workplace more inclusive for everyone.

Some examples for individuals include being mindful about dietary requirements when organising staff and student morning tea or lunch celebrations, ensuring that everyone can participate.

Volunteering to bring inclusive dishes to share is a good show of support for your colleagues, as is using inclusive language and respecting boundaries when interacting with others.

Another example is taking an active stance in showing that discriminating or harassing behaviour is not tolerated, if you happen to witness it. Being mindful about accessibility for all participants when organising staff outings is similarly important.

In the workplace, I appreciate that UQ staff and students have access to a quiet room for prayer or reflection, or parental use, as well as access to unisex bathrooms and members of staff who are available for support.

Small gestures like this help a great deal towards people’s well-being and can have a positive impact on their progression in the workforce. When we lift each other up, everybody wins.   

If you would like to make a blog post on your experience in diversity and inclusion at QAAFI, please get in touch with the QAAFI Diversity and Inclusion Committee (

If you would like to become a Discrimination and Harassment Contact Officer (DHCO) or a UQ Ally, or be in contact with a DHCO or UQ Ally network member visit:

UQ Ally Network meets